CHETAN RAMCHURN

The Political Financing Bill, yet another half-baked legislation by the present government, has been thrown in this year’s cauldron of campaign happenings with no intention of levelling the playing field. Traditional parties that have been well fed by their financiers for decades with considerable riches amassed in trusts and coffers get to pose as saviours of our democracy. This playing field has been way too distorted for any progress to be achieved.

A farce

The timing of those professing to be harbingers of change is suspicious. It is known that the ruling party or alliance often unlocks state machinery prior to the polls so as to improve its chances of winning. This is often the case in Mauritius. This bill would in no way thwart such a move. While opposition parties would be under great scrutiny, the ruling alliance would indulge in onerous expenses funded by taxpayers’ money without being hurdled.

Another fear expressed by opposition parties is that the Electoral Supervisory Commission, unless fiercely independent, will be reduced to a mere instrument in the hands of the MSM/ML to exercise control over other parties. Lalit deems that the proposed alteration will pervert a political party to “some kind of money-making private enterprise, like a Company.” Another loophole identified by the progressive movement is that expenses made by supporters are absolutely not dealt with and that addressing financing is but a ploy designed to not confront the expenditure conundrum.

Sanctions for infringing the law are simply not rigorous enough confirming that this bill does seek to uproot corruption from the system. Rs 1M fines are not going to clean the Augean stables and tougher sanctions such as the disqualification from standing for future elections, the ineligibility for appointment as a public official and imprisonment should have been part of the penalties but are not. Alarmingly so.

The government’s answer to opaque financing and rampant corruption is an unfit one coming at a time when the integrity of our leaders is increasingly being

questioned by citizens. The latter have witnessed how incestuous ties between politicians and businessmen can rock our country’s stability, be it in the form of privileges or vendetta expeditions. This bill affirms that money dictates politics. Up to Rs 80 million that can be spent for general elections, excluding free air time by servile radios, complexes offered by one of the party’s pets on behalf of a state enterprise and gifts by third parties is a lot.

State funding

While there is no perfect financing system, state funding would be a step in the right direction for our democracy. The leader of the opposition was right to remind the house of same, “It is not a free good. It is not free. It is the best thing that we have in Mauritius, democracy, and it has a cost. And the majority of democracies – I think, it is nearly 70% when we had looked at it in the Committee – nearly 70% of democracies accept that State financing is a good thing, it is a necessary thing to ensure that corruption is limited, to ensure that democracy works and to ensure that we have, as far as possible, fair and free elections.”

The main criticism levelled against this option is that it would be a further burden on taxpayers. How much are we exactly talking about? Duval evaluates state financing at Rs 150 M. Are we not already paying a lot more as a result of the financing of parties by conglomerates? It is certainly not more than the fiscal exemption given to smart cities evaluated at over Rs 10 billion or the very generous road built near our airport to please the bourgeoisie.

Another loophole of the state financing of political parties is that instead of nurturing plurality, the great majority of funds would go to the mainstream parties if allocation is based on seats or on percentage of votes. In a paper by the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, the need for equality and equitability is highlighted to ensure that traditional factions do not monopolise the funds. The need for the ‘establishment of independent, impartial and capable public institutions to supervise the use of money in politics’ is highlighted in the same report.

The OECD SecretaryGeneral Angel Gurría at a forum on Financing Democracy and Averting Policy Capture rightly avers that; “Achieving the inclusive growth we need to support better policies for better lives requires that the policy making process itself be inclusive and fair. In a democracy, public policy should never be for sale to the highest bidder.” This has been the case since we have achieved independence and this bill does not save our democracy. It is time to change the system. This bill further tweaks it in favour of capitalists.